Category Archives: Regional Policy

Criteria for Good Environmental Status of Sea Waters

The European Commission has adopted a decision outlining the criteria necessary to achieve good environmental status for Europe’s seas. The decision on the criteria for Good Environmental Status of marine waters focuses on different aspects of marine ecosystems including biological diversity, fish population, eutrophication, contaminants, litter and noise.

Member States now have to develop marine strategies which serve as action plans for applying an ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities.

European Parliament Positions on Financial Regulation and Agriculture

The European Parliament has outlined its policy preferences on two very important subjects – financial regulation reform and the Common agricultural Policy (CAP).

On financial regulation the EP wants a strengthening of the powers of the three European supervisory authorities (ESAs) – the European Banking Authority, the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority, and the European Securities and Markets Authority. The Parliament wants for the ESAs to be able to issue decisions directly to a financial institution such as a bank, where the national supervisor has not been able to change some of its practices that are considered unsound. The ESAs would also have the power to settle disputes between national supervisors.

On the Common Agricultural Policy the European Parliament says that funding should be maintained “at least maintained during the next financial period” (2013-2020). MEPs call for more objective criteria, partly to reduce disparities in direct payments, considering the current “hectare basis” inappropriate, and partly to reflect regional diversity. The Parliament believes that geographical indications of origin need to be strengthened and enforced. The EP proposes strengthening producers’ bargaining power in the food supply chain vis-à-vis the retailers and other players and improving price transparency. This position aligns the Parliament with the position of Member States that oppose a radical reform of the CAP. The Commission and other Member States, however, believe that the funding for the CAP should be reduced, and used elsewhere for boosting the overall competitiveness of the EU.

Priorities of the Belgian Presidency of the Council 2010

The Belgian presidency of the Council has started, and it has published its six-month programme. The objectives and priorities are:

  • a return to maintained, sustainable and balanced growth throughout the European Union;
  • fulfilling the objectives of the EU 2020 strategy;
  • a new regulatory and supervisory structure for the financial sector;
  • green jobs and white jobs (health and social services jobs);
  • objectives and performance indicators for social protection, social inclusion, pensions and healthcare;
  • negotiations for a European patent;
  • guidelines for better coordination of Member States’ policy for research, development and innovation;
  • securing the energy supply;
  • agreement on European legislation which would allow Member States to recover the external costs generated by road transport from users;
  • establishing a single asylum procedure and a uniform international protection statute by 2012
  • fight against terrorism, organised crime, illegal immigration and human trafficking;
  • legal migration will also be a priority for the Presidency.

Interestingly, the program uses the motto “Let’s put Europe back into action!”. I wonder if this has anything to do with the outgoing Spanish presidency.

The Report of the Reflection Group for the Future of the EU

The European Council in December 2007 decided to establish a ‘reflection group’ of no more than nine people, selected from across the Union on the basis of merit, to identify the key issues which the European Union is likely to face in the future and how these might be addressed.

Now the group, led by Felipe González, has issued its report “PROJECT EUROPE 2030: Challenges and Opportunities” (via Ralph Grahn).

There are some concrete proposals that I find interesting:

Economy:

  • Further developing the internal market, e.g. in the area of services;
  • Social security rights should, once and for all, be readily transportable between Member States;
  • Extension of the availability of e-infrastructure to houses, schools and businesses;
  • Development of healthcare, well-being and age-related industries and services;
  • Giving leadership for economic coordination to the European Council;
  • Reinforcing procedures for supervision of national budgets to ensure transparency as well as the sustainability of public finances.

Education and Innovation:

  • Developing flexible and open curricula capable of nurturing curiosity and creativity among children;
  • Building a network of top-level higher education establishments able to rival the best in the world;
  • Ensuring that universities have greater exposure to the real economy in Europe and the rest of the world;
  • More funding is needed for applied research that would benefit SMEs.

Demographic Challenges:

  • Family-friendly policies aimed at stabilising or increasing fertility levels should be put in place;
  • Provide the conditions in which people, in particular women with young children, and older workers, can remain in the workforce;
  • Removing the legal, administrative and cultural barriers to promote greater intra-EU labour mobility;
  • Retirement should become an option for individuals rather than an obligation;
  • A common immigration policy for the EU should set out a specific medium- to long-term strategy for targeting skilled immigrants;
  • A common approach to irregular immigrants.

Energy Security and Climate Change:

  • The headline target for energy efficiency should be raised to 50 per cent by 2030, from the currently agreed 20 per cent by 2020;
  • Move away from oil as the primary source of fuel for transport by encouraging bio-fuel standards and electric and hybrid vehicles;
  • Develop intelligent energy networks (smart grids);
  • Recourse to nuclear energy;
  • Develop unconventional energy sources such as tight gas and shale oil.
  • Internal and External Security:
  • Increasing the powers of existing agencies and instruments, such as Europol, Eurojust, the Situation Centre, Frontex and the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator;
  • Create a European civil reserve team of specially trained units ready to be deployed at short notice;
  • Develop a more integrated external border management system;
  • Agree on a workable strategic concept for the EU defence.

Foreign Relations and Enlargement:

  • Build a global economic strategy that takes into account the euro as the world’s second reserve currency;
  • Stay open to potential new members from Europe;
  • Develop an enhanced role in stabilising its immediate surroundings by building on the existing ‘European Neighbourhood Policy’, ‘Eastern Partnership’ and ‘Union for the Mediterranean’;
  • Manage a strategic co-existence, modernisation and region-building policy with Russia;
  • Pull the EU’s diplomatic, military, trade, and development policies together with the external dimensions of its common economic policies;
  • Develop an EU approach to global governance reform.

The European Citizens:

  • More transparency and accuracy in the way we communicate EU policy-making;
  • Avoid rhetoric and explain in plain language how EU adds value to its citizens’ lives;
  • Encouraging Member States to grant voting rights in national elections to nationals of other Member States after a certain period of residence and tax payments;
  • “Europeanising” European Parliament elections through the introduction of cross-border lists;
  • Create a specific administrative instrument that would provide proof of European citizenship for individuals to use on a voluntary basis in order to access residence, employment and social security rights;
  • Establish a system for evaluating the impact of EU law.

Excessive Deficit May Prompt Suspension of Regional Aid?

The European Commission considers suspending structural funds for states which are regularly in breach of the EU’s stability and growth pact. An additional criterion being considered is a public debt ratio above 60% of GDP. The Commission also plans to deepen and broaden budgetary surveillance in the future.

I can follow the logic of the Commission in desiring to impose a budget discipline in the EU, but I am particularly worried about Bulgaria. As we already know, there probably will be an excessive deficit procedure against Bulgaria for 2009 and possibly for 2010. True, the gross public debt is relatively small. But even now we face substantial problems in using the structural funds. Any further restriction or suspension of regional aid by the Commission can be devastating for a country that simply is not competitive enough on the EU markets.

Commissioner Hearings: So Far, So Good

There were four important hearings of commissioner designates in the European Parliament on Monday.

The summaries from the hearings of the candidates:

I was able to follow personally the hearing of Mrs. Catherine Ashton. She was very well prepared, and failed to answer only a few questions (one question was about the transatlantic market initiative, which is, well, not mainstream to say the least and bears a lot of criticism). Euractiv and EUobserver provide their accounts of her hearing.

Today I will follow with great attention the presentation of the Bulgarian commissioner designate – Mrs. Rumiana Jeleva. You can also follow her hearing online here.

EU Achievements in 2009

The European Commission has issued its annual multimedia yearbook presenting some of the European Union’s most important achievements of the past year.

The main achievements according to the Commission are:

Paving the way towards economic recovery – The EU and its Member States have mobilised huge resources to put the economy back on its feet and to protect the citizens.

Staying in touch for less – Europeans can stay in touch via mobile phone more easily and more cheaply, thanks to the EU’s efforts to ensure cheaper costs and connections.

Pooling resources to fight dementia – the EU’s €2 billion ‘innovative medicines initiative’ brings together industry and academia to ensure the rapid transition from new science to new medicines.

Tackling climate change – The EU has made it possible to prevent 32 million tonnes of CO2 emissions at the flick of a light switch.

Fighting hunger in the world’s poorest countries – As its €1 billion Food Facility clearly showed in 2009, the EU is tackling poverty and hunger across the globe.

Caring for the environment – To keep the environment as clean as possible, the EU has brought in new rules to cut down on harmful pollutants from petrol or pesticides.

Rebuilding Europe when disaster strikes – EU countries have acted rapidly to support one another, by sending aid to areas affected by natural disasters, as was the case for the Abruzzo earthquake in 2009.

Giving bank customers value for money – The EU created the single market for the benefit of citizens as well as companies; now it is making sure that banks give their customers a fair deal.

Protecting animals on land and in the oceans – the EU has made it illegal to put seal products on the market and proposed a new action plan to save sharks.

Keeping online shopping hassle-free – the EU has cracked-down on websites that were not giving consumers the rights they are entitled to under EU laws.